Microsoft rights review of public contracts to include surveillance technology
Microsoft has agreed to a shareholder proposal to have about 16 of its current contracts with the U.S. government, law enforcement and immigration enforcement agencies reviewed over concerns related to possible human rights infringements, reports Bloomberg.
The tech giant says it will commission an independent report to determine the human rights impact some of its products have on people of certain communities including Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), after a shareholder request called for a review of how well the company’s human rights engagement is reflected in its contracts, including surveillance ones. Some of those contracts may involve facial recognition or other biometrics.
As reports Bloomberg, Microsoft has said the review will be carried out by Foley Hoag LLP law firm and the report will be published next year.
A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed the review to Bloomberg, saying the process will involve consultations with people of communities suspected of suffering rights abuses as a result of the deployment of products by the company.
“Microsoft Corp. will commission an independent, third-party assessment to identify, understand, assess, and address actual or potential adverse human rights impacts of the company’s products and services and business relationships with regard to law enforcement, immigration enforcement, and other government contracts. The assessment will include consultation with BIPOC communities, including immigrants, and other groups representing communities most impacted by Microsoft’s surveillance products, law enforcement and government contracts,” Frank Shaw told Bloomberg in a statement.
Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC, a shareholder that contributed to the review request, welcomed Microsoft’s resolve to conduct the review and the company’s agreement to include inputs from affected rights holders, which was one of the shareholders’ requests.
Bloomberg mentioned that Open MIC is also working on two other shareholder requests which seek to prohibit Microsoft from selling facial recognition technology to any U.S. government agency.
The company followed other U.S. tech giants last year in pausing sales of its facial recognition to police in the country until a national legal framework for the technology has been adopted.
The Microsoft rights review move comes to highlight the growing concerns about human rights infringements with the deployment of especially surveillance technology from some of the big tech companies in the United States.
Last month, for instance, Facebook said it had disabled an AI algorithm that was believed to be at the origin of a racism-related incident. The company also tendered an apology.